Empowering employees is crucial for succesful strategy management and strategy execution. When employees feel empowered they are more likely to perform well during the development and execution of a strategy. Employees are the ones who have to execute the strategy and make it a success. When employees feel empowered this increases their motivation and execution performance, their self-confidence and self-determination and their willingsness to take initiative and their participation in desicion-making. All these attitudes and behaviors have a postive impact on strategy execution.
Organizational members who believe they have the ability to perform a specific task are more likely to engage and persist in the performance of that task. This has been called self-efficacy in social psychology. Many studies have reported a significant correlation between self-efficacy and subsequent task performance (Gist, 1987). When organizational members have a high feeling of competence or sense of self-efficacy and believe that they can perform the new strategy implementation tasks successfully, they are more likely to perform well. The degree of self-efficacy of an individual has been found to be the best predictor of work performance. When people believe they are able to perform a certain task they are more likely to exert greater effort to master the challenge and are most persistent to learn and master the task. People who do not believe they are able to execute a certain task are less likely to reduce their effort and more easily give up.
What is employee empowerment? Performance increases the feeling of competence or self-efficacy, which in turn influences performance. This creates virtuous circles of performance in organizations with a high performance culture. On the other hand, when organizational members do not hold positions that allow them to experience themselves as powerful and autonomous they are not likely to reach a feeling of competence or empowerment. This is often the case in organizations that are highly centralized with authoritarian managers. Such a context does not allow organizational members to experience themselves in ways that build their self-efficacy and thus increase their performance.
WHY EMPOWER EMPLOYEES?
Empowering organizational members has a positive influence on implementation performance, because of the following reasons.
Empowerment increases work motivation. Organizational members tend to be more motivated to execute their strategy execution tasks when they have more influence over the way in which they perform their work. People like to have control over how they execute their work. This reduces work stress and increases their commitment to their work.
Empowerment increases self-confidence and self-determination. Furthermore, by giving employees more control over their work they feel more important, and involved. Organizational members often have a need to feel proud and important. When organizational members feel proud and important this increases their self-confidence, which in turn enhances their implementation performance.
Empowerment increases employee initiative and participation. Many organizational members have a fear to make mistakes, and are thus reluctant to take responsibility, initiative and participate. By slowly empowering organizational members, they become less afraid to make mistakes, more willing to take initiative and more willing to participate in decision making.
Empowerment enhances operational problem solving. Lower-level employees are most suited to solve execution problems. They are the ones who encounter the problems during the execution of their implementation tasks and are thus the ones who are most suited to solve these problems. Lower-level organizational members need to be empowered to make decisions about matters they are the most knowledgeable about.
Empowerment increases motivation and confidence of employees. Self-responsibility and self-empowerment of organizational participants makes them more motivated, more self-confident and more willing to take initiative, which is beneficial to the strategy implementation effort.
Empowerment has many other benefits. Empowerment or delegation has potential benefits such as improves speed and quality of decisions, reduced managerial overload, enrichment of direct reports’ job, increased motivation of direct reports and provides opportunities for the development of leadership skills of direct reports (Yukl & Fu, 1999). Furthermore, empowerment increases work performance (Cotton et al., 1988; Leana, 1986) and innovative behavior (Kanter, 1983). This in turn increases the motivation of organizational members by making them feel more powerful (Conger & Kanungo, 1988).
SOURCES OF LOW FEELINGS OF COMPETENCE
A low self-efficacy may stem from a lack of self-confidence and self-esteem. An authoritarian management style may be another source of low self-efficacy. Being in a subordinate position with little power has a negative influence on the level of self-efficacy of organizational members. In addition, when organizational members are not rewarded when they perform well but do get criticism when mistakes are made this may lower their implementation feeling of competence as well. Finally, organizational members may have low implementation feeling of competence because they have seen many things fail (including past implementations). When they see others fail, they are more likely to expect that they will fail as well.
Organization change can create powerlessness. Major organizational change can have a negative influence on organizational member self-efficacy. Organizational change may result in organizational members experiencing powerlessness and insecurity. This is because ‘major organizational changes may seriously challenge employees’ sense of control and competence as they deal with the uncertainty of change and accept new responsibilities, skills, and guidelines for action and behavior’ (Conger and Kanungo, 1988: 477).
Employees feel incompetent. Many organizational members have a low feeling of competence and often lack the self-confidence to perform the new implementation tasks. A low implementation may stem from several sources. First, the lack of self-efficacy is negatively influenced by a lack of self-confidence and self-esteem.
Authoritarian management reduce feelings of competence. Organizational members can have a low level of self-efficacy because of an authoritarian management style. Being in a subordinate position with little power has a negative influence on the level of self-efficacy of people.
Employees are not rewarded for good performance but do get criticism for failure. Organizational members do not receive rewards or compliments when they perform well but do get criticism when something goes wrong. When this happens this negatively influences their level of implementation self-efficacy.
Low job control creates low feeling of competence. My research found that when organizational members have little control over their work, their motivation may be reduced. This finding is also in line with research in the organizational behavior literature. For example, Lawler (1992) found that centralized control tends to have a negative influence on the intrinsic motivation of organizational members.
Experience of failure results in low feeling of competence. Many organizational members have low implementation self-efficacy because they see many things fail (including past implementations) around them. When they see others fail, they are more likely to expect that they will fail as well.
CONSEQUENCES OF POWERLESSNESS
When employees have a low feeling of competence, this has the following consequences for strategy implementation.
Employees dislike new tasks. Organizational members with low feelings of competence tend to have little ambition to perform new tasks, especially more complex and unfamiliar tasks. As strategy implementation often entails new and unfamiliar tasks, this negatively influences on the implementation. Even when organizational members do have the required capabilities they can be afraid to take on a job with more responsibility, which entails more risk, because of low self-efficacy. This is illustrated by an example of a woman, who was very reluctant to become a manager, but when she finally accepted the offer became a very capable manager.
Employees fear to make mistakes and take initiative. When organizational members have low self-efficacy, they tend to become afraid to make mistakes, take initiative, and participate in decision making. They are not confident that their endeavors will be successful.
Reduced employee confidence and pride. When organizational members have low self-confidence, they are not likely to be proud of themselves. However, individuals have a need to feel proud about themselves, their work and their organization. Consequently, organizational members often have a need to attain status, within the organization and their community.
HOW TO EMPOWER EMPLOYEES
Managers can increase the feeling of competence of employees through coaching and counseling, rewarding performance, a people management style and by creating an organizational culture in which people are able to make mistakes and learn from them.
Delegate responsibilities to employees. By delegating more responsibility to organizational members and coaching them, they learn to solve problems themselves instead of going to management to ask for solutions – a common practice in many organizations. Delegate responsibilities only to those who have demonstrated the capacity to handle it. However, not only should responsibility be given to organizational members, but they have to account for that responsibility as well.
Allow participation in decision making. Organizational members can be empowered by making allowing participation in decision making. When employees know that the goals of their organization, their organizational unit and as an individual they know what they can to contribute to them. This gives them clear boundaries in which they can act on their own initiatives increasing their sense of empowerment. When goals are unclear, it is more likely that they will perform tasks that are not in line with organizational goals. Such uncertainty often creates a fear to make mistakes, creating a sense of powerlessness. Furthermore, as we saw earlier, it is crucial that leaders and managers create an atmosphere in which employees and managers can make mistakes. This creates an innovative culture in which employees are empowered to engage in innovative behavior.
Give employees more control over their work. Employees can be empowered by giving them more control over what happens in his or her work environment. This has been called job control. Job control can include control over work tasks, work pace, and freedom from supervision. Research has shown that when employees and managers experience job control, they are more likely to satisfied with their job, are more committed to their job and the organization, are more motivated to perform their job well and tend to perform better. Furthermore, low levels of job control have been found to be related to emotional distress, role stress, absenteeism, and a tendency to leave the organization.
Create a positive atmosphere. Research has found that when people are working in a positive atmosphere they tend to have higher levels of self-efficacy or empowerment. A crucial task of executives and managers is to create such a positive work climate, as we saw earlier.
Provide role models. Employees can increase their sense of self-efficacy by observing others perform activities successfully. This is often referred to as modelling. People can come to expect that they can improve their own performance by learning from what they have observed. People learn by watching others. Research has found that role models who are personally liked, have a similar background such as age, gender and ethnicity are most effective.
Assign increasingly challenging tasks. Empower employees by encouraging them to grow their skills, assign increasingly challenging projects and assignments. Individuals can increase their feelings of competency by have accomplished similar tasks in the past. Previous successes raise mastery expectations, while repeated failures lower them.
Guide employees to make their own decisions. People experience a feeling of competency when they have decided or accomplished something on their own. This means that managers cannot just tell their employees what to do. Managers must guide them to make their own decisions and solve their own problems.
Coach employees. Through coaching and giving feedback about performance, people can be led, through suggestion, to believe that they can successfully perform a certain task. By repeatedly telling direct reports ‘you can do this’, they are more likely to be successful at the task. However, it crucial that the objective is believable and that coach is perceived to be trustworthy. Giving employees accurate but positive feedback about their performance may also enhance the self-efficacy of the receiver. Such feedback should be as specific as possible. Praising employees for successful task performance can also be effective. However, receiving praise for mediocre performance only tends to reduce the self-efficacy of the receiver.
Give information about the strategy and its execution. Employees can be empowered by giving them information about the strategy and its implementation. This gives them access to information based on which decisions can be made.
Provide employee training. When organizational members are empowered by assigning new responsibilities, it is crucial that these employees receive training to carry out these additional responsibilities. We discuss this in more detail, in the next section.